Monday, December 7, 2009

Broken Levees

"The United States was not more prepared for massive unemployment than New Orleans had been prepared for its levees to fail."

Peter Edelman and Barbara Ehrenreich, "Why Welfare Reform fails its recession test," The Washington Post, December 6,2009.

Edelman and Ehrenreich pummel TANF for all the right reasons but fail to talk in many specifics about what a new safety net would look like. TANF has consistently failed from a "moving out of poverty" perspective, although many smart people think it has succeeded. Success for them has meant lowering the welfare rolls and putting work at the center of welfare policy. And as the article shows, some parts of the safety net are kicking into gear -- UI, food stamps, EITC usage, etc. But it's not enough.

"We need a massive emergency relief package not only to fund new jobs but to repair the grevious holes in our national safety net. Fifty million people need help now--not in three months or six months, but today."

The questions, of course, are what kind of job creation and for whom and what kind of national safety net. Public jobs? And should we be looking back to AFDC or forward to a new kind of work-based safety net geared to higher unemployment and the new, new economy. Unfortunately, I fear we'll have this debate piecemeal or after the fact.

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